Suspected pirates ambushed and hijacked the MT Matrix I off the coast of Nigeria’s oil-rich delta early last Saturday.
The hijacked tanker was reportedly ferrying so-called “subsidy fuel” for the Federal Government.
Pakistani and Nigerian sailors were reportedly taken hostage in the latest attack targeting the region.
Private security officials claim the gunmen boarded the MT Matrix I some 40 nautical miles off the coast of Nigeria’s Bayelsa State early Saturday morning, taking a number of the 17-member crew hostage.
It wasn’t immediately known what happened to the rest of the crew, which comprised 12 Pakistanis and five Nigerians.
The officials reportedly spoke on condition of anonymity, as the Federal Government was not speaking publicly about the hijacking.
While a military spokesman in the Niger Delta referred enquiries for comment Tuesday to the Nigerians Navy (NN), a Navy spokesman, Commodore Kabir Aliyu, said that there had been no report of a hijacking made to officials.
Notably, some shippers in the region don’t report hijackings publicly, out of fears of having their insurance premiums rise.
The Pakistani High Commission in Abuja could not be immediately connected by telephone Tuesday.
The NN listed the MT Matrix I as one of several allowed to bring subsidised fuel into Nigeria this month, as part of a programme costing the nation billions of dollars annually.
The Navy listed the ship as being operated by a company called Integrated Shipping Services Nigeria Ltd. A telephone number for the company could not be immediately found.
Other registries listed the ship as being operated by Val Oil Trading SA of Athens, Greece.
A number for that company could not be immediately found.
Officials at Matrix Energy Limited, a Nigerian company listed as doing business with Val Oil Trading, did not comment on the hijack.
The Gulf of Guinea, which follows the continent’s southward curve from Liberia past Nigeria to Gabon, has seen an escalation in violent pirate attacks, from low-level armed robberies to hijackings and cargo thefts.
London-based Lloyd’s Market Association — an umbrella group of insurers — has listed Nigeria, neighboring Benin and nearby waters in the same risk category as Somalia, where two decades of war and anarchy have allowed piracy to flourish.
Oil tanker hijackings have happened more and more in recent months, with pirates stealing the fuel onboard, as opposed to kidnapping sailors for ransom.
Estimates suggest pirates likely are able to make as much as a $2 million profit for offloading 3,000 tons of fuel.
Foreign hostages still draw tens of thousands of dollars in ransoms, with nearly all released unharmed after their companies pay for their freedom.
The piracy and kidnappings have grown around Nigeria’s oil delta, despite a 2009 government amnesty programme for militants there.
Meanwhile, two ships have been involved in suspected piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden in which gun-fire was exchanged, intelligence reports claim.
The Hong Kong-flagged 74,000-dead weight tanker Yong Xing (built 2005) was reportedly attacked by 12 pirates in position 13° 11’N, 48° 54’E.
The incident took place penultimate Monday, but details have only just emerged in the latest piracy report from security consultants AKE Maritime.
AKE reported that two skiffs came within 500 metres of the vessel, at which point the on board security team fired warning shots.
A day earlier, the 12,738-dead weight Singapore-flagged general cargo ship Se Pelagica (built 2010) was approached by five armed pirates in position 12° 12’N, 44° 20’E.
On board, armed guards fired warning shots and anti-piracy measures were implemented.
The skiff subsequently aborted the attack and moved away.
“There have been eight other reported suspicious sightings in the HRA, the majority located along the Western approaches to the Gulf of Aden,” AKE said, adding: “These reports fell below the threshold to be considered piracy-related and the increase in reports is more likely to be due to an increase in local fishing activity.
“However, it is possible that pirate skiffs may probe the responsiveness of merchant vessels transiting the area by carrying out approaches so caution is advised.
“Some reports suggest a limited number of pirate attack groups seem to be defying the oncoming SW monsoon season and deteriorating sea conditions.”
AKE said that whilst pirate capabilities as a whole have been greatly reduced, these reports demonstrate that opportunistic pirates could still be operating and as such, there is still risk to vessels in the HRA.
“Anti piracy measures should be implemented in accordance with BMP4 and vigilance maintained for the foreseeable future,” it said.
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